A composite of yearbook photos and text

The end of the school year is always bittersweet, and this year, we have an extra reason to wax nostalgic: After 14 years at School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and eight years as president, Elissa Tenny is retiring at the end of the semester.

So we asked several SAIC community members to “sign” Elissa’s yearbook with their memories and well-wishes. And from all of us at School of the Art Institute of Chicago magazine: have a great summer, stay awesome, never change!

Mark Jeffery, Professor and Chair of Performance

Dear Elissa, I want to thank you for creating spaces and opportunities, for lifting people up, for focusing on first-generation students and mental health, the ways you’ve really shown care for our students and helped them succeed. I appreciate how you’ve always asked questions, not to give us the answers, but to allow for us as a community to address complication through inquiry and fellowship in a way that keeps us moving. One cannot be a leader as a singular entity—you’ve always known this—that we need each other. Thank you for that and for the way you see people in this community—not just at the School, but globally. I wish you an extraordinary new chapter. I wish you joy. Thank you, and keep in touch!

Ash Shah, Student

In my first-year Orientation, Elissa Tenny imparted the empowering message, “You are citizen artists,” which has resonated deeply within me ever since. Through her tenure as the esteemed president of our School, she has consistently exemplified unparalleled inspiration and support, serving as a guiding light for the students. President Tenny, as you approach the next chapter of your journey, I extend my heartfelt wishes for all your future endeavors. Your remarkable leadership, unwavering dedication, and profound impact will undoubtedly continue to shape and uplift those you encounter along your path.

Katharine Schutta, Director, CAPX

We will always be grateful to Elissa, who always advocated for our work in careers and professional development. Soon after Elissa arrived, we developed a beautiful program of alumni conversations for first-year students with her support. Elissa wanted students to connect early with inspiring alums and also celebrate their successes, and this event set the tone for a great partnership with her office. Thank you, Elissa! Wishing you all the best as you begin your next chapter.

Lisa Wainwright, Professor and Former Dean of Faculty

One of the many things I have enjoyed about Elissa during her career at SAIC is how much she genuinely loves art and artists. This passion for creative makers meant that her focus was always on how to best support them—as students, as faculty, and as alumni. She loves being in the company of artists, to celebrate their work and discuss the myriad ideas behind their practice. This sincere engagement with artists meant that her decision-making as provost and then as president was informed by a belief in the power of the arts—in the wonder of their unique craft and the potential of widening consciousness through thoughtfully embedded ideas and affects. Elissa believed in artists, and her legacy will be attached to that simple, but deeply important ideal. Elissa, thank you for your years of incredible service to our institution. You’ve made a difference in the lives of so many. And I wish you the happiest of days for your next adventure.

Camille Martin-Thomsen, Dean of Faculty and Vice President of Academic Affairs

Thank you, Elissa, for all that you’ve done for SAIC. For all that you’ve done for women in leadership in higher education, and for helping me to differently envision my place in higher education that ultimately led me to SAIC. I am forever grateful.

Bassim Al-Shaker, Alum

Amazing people will be great at anything they do. Elissa is one of these types of people, so I know she'll continue to be amazing in the future. I wish you the best of luck and can't wait to see what's next!

Michelle Grabner, Crown Family Professor in Painting and Drawing

Within architect Farshid Moussavi’s newly glistening Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland or at the drafty and historic Poor Farm in rural Wisconsin, I can always count on a vibrant, critical conversation with Elissa that concludes with her vehemently championing artists and their imagination. Over the years and in diverse cultural and institutional environs, Elissa’s enthusiasm for the potential of artists is always made plain. It is an optimism that I will profoundly miss in Elissa's leadership. Elissa, your belief that hope and transformation is the work of artists has always been your most admirable work. It is something we each need to carry forward. Not simply to honor you, Elissa, but to honor our futures.

Jefferson Pinder, Professor

One of the most memorable things about Elissa is her calm under pressure. Work at the School can move at an aggressive pace, but Elissa never seems ruffled. Her empathy is genuine and passion for people is clear. In particular, Elissa played a vital role in the forwarding of action items for the Anti-racism Committee. She met with Delinda Collier—my fellow committee co-chair—and I on a weekly basis and her check-ins established a tone that consistently revealed that she meant business. There was never push-back on what we wanted to achieve, only support. She has also made incredible efforts with her staff to keep up with artists in our community. Often sending personal notes, attending openings, and on occasion traveling to locations across the country to show her interest in the arts. Elissa, I will miss these sometimes quiet, often enormous contributions you make to the people that work here.

Cheeyon Cha, Associate Dean of Student Affairs for Academic Advising

One of my first memories with Elissa was on a trip to Korea. Elissa was SAIC’s newly appointed provost at that time, and it was her first time visiting Korea. She connected with Korean alumni instantly. Elissa, I’m so grateful for the ways you’ve connected with our alums and students from around the world, and I wish you all the best in your next chapter!

James Rondeau, President and Eloise W. Martin Director, Art Institute of Chicago

I have had the great privilege and good fortune to partner with Elissa Tenny in leading the Art Institute of Chicago—an institution comprising the School and the Museum. The relationship between the School and Museum is a symbiotic one, mutually reinforcing, yet distinctly dedicated to nourishing, supporting and elevating human creativity in all its profound manifestations. It’s also rare; and Elissa has honored and stewarded our unique institution with decisive leadership and vision, as well as tremendous generosity, great intellectual acumen, and limitless curiosity. She is a fierce advocate for artists, students, faculty, and staff, and her work has made those of us who have worked with her better. That’s always the hope when you accept a role that means a great deal to you, personally and professionally: that your legacy is profoundly positive and long-lasting. Elissa, you've accomplished this and more. My heartfelt congratulations on an exceptional career.

Courtney Rowe, Vice President for Advancement

Since joining SAIC in April 2022, I have been privileged to witness the exceptional leadership of President Elissa Tenny. Her unique blend of vision and pragmatism drew me to SAIC, showcasing the kind of impactful leadership that is rare yet profoundly necessary in higher education. Elissa’s engagement with our community demonstrates her unparalleled commitment and warmth. Her approachability and genuine care for the SAIC community have not only fostered a sense of belonging but have also inspired and motivated us all. As a woman in leadership, I am profoundly grateful for the path Elissa has paved, allowing others like me to aspire and succeed in leadership capacities. Elissa, as we celebrate your retirement, I reflect on your impactful tenure with deep admiration and gratitude. Your legacy at SAIC is indelible, and your influence on those lucky enough to work with you will continue to inspire and guide us.

Anita Sinha, Board of Governors Member

Elissa, you leave an incredible legacy. As president, you've been nothing short of remarkable. Your focus on access, affordability, career preparedness, student wellness, and first-generation students—the impact has been huge. I could go on and on about your initiatives and stellar accomplishments, but I will just say that during your tenure you’ve elevated the School to a position of great strength. On a personal level, you have been an inspiration to me. I’ve said this many times, but I cannot say it enough, partnering with you, and getting to know you, has been truly rewarding and one of the great joys of my life. I wish you success in this next phase of your journey, more time spent with family, kids, and grandkids, worldwide travel, and great times with friends. I for one am not saying goodbye, nor am I bidding you farewell, because I hope to see you for many get togethers well into the future. Thank you with a grateful heart.